It might be a small country but New Zealand has had its fair share of murder mysteries, some of which have remained unsolved for decades. In this edition of elocal, we look back at three of those head-scratching cases that have confused the nation and remain unexplained - in some cases over four decades later. Each of the disappearances include teenage women and while there is a lot of speculation behind how each of these women met their demise, they still remain unsolved.
TRACEY ANN PATIENT (1976)
‘126040’ might seem like a random set of numbers, but for the family of Tracey Ann Patient, it could hold the clue behind the murder of their beloved daughter and sister, which took place on January 29, 1976. Just under two years later, an anonymous tip off would be made to the Henderson Police, stating that Tracey’s signet ring could be found wrapped in purple tissue paper in a rubbish bin outside of an Avondale pharmacy. The tipster also mentioned that random sequence of numbers, saying it had something to do with her murder. While the police managed to locate the signet ring, they never worked out what the random sequence of numbers meant and their is no evidence that the tipster ever called back. Since then, armchair detectives have come up with a range of ideas about what the number might refer to, from the obvious through to the absurd, ranging from a postal code, through to the number of a Holocaust tattoo. No idea is a stupid idea and although the case is no longer being actively looked into, police are still taking calls with any new tips that might assist in finally giving Tracey Patient and her family, some answers. The disappearance of the Auckland school girl took place shortly after Tracey visited a friend for the evening while her sister Debbie went to the Doobie Brothers’ concert at Western Springs. On her way to visit her friend, Tracy waved goodbye to her sister Debbie, “she was walking up the road slightly behind me and I never turned around, I just went: ‘Oh, okay bye, see you later’ and went off,” her sister said of her walk to the concert, which she describes as the biggest regret of her life. “I just so so regret not turning around. Looking back how are you supposed to know that's the last time you're going to see somebody,” Debbie said in video footage released by police.
While Debbie would go on to attend the concert and Tracey would visit her friend’s house and walk back towards her home, the last time she was seen by her friend was when she left her walking down Dellwood Avenue at 9pm, in Henderson, which was only a 500 metre walk from her home. As the hours went by, Debbie and their father soon decided to drive around looking for her but by the morning, a man walking his dog along Scenic Drive, near the Waitakere Ranges found her body dumped in the bush. The young girl had been strangled with her own stocking and a stick at the back of her neck to tighten the lethal weapon. Heartbroken, the family moved back to England, where they had initially lived, and would go on to bury their daughter at Manor Park Cemetery in London.
MONA BLADES (1975)
For 18-year-old Mona Blades, the chance to celebrate her baby nephew’s first birthday was just too sweet an idea to let the fact that she had no car stand in her way. It was Queen’s Birthday weekend in 1975 and she decided to surprise him by hitchhiking to her family home in Hastings from Hamilton, where she lived with her sister Lillian, brother-in-law Tom and baby niece, Angela. The loving aunt would purchase some colourful tumblers as a gift for her nephew and get her brother in law to drop her off on Cambridge Road early on Saturday May, 31. That would be the last time her family would ever see her, but not the last time she would be seen by members of the public. A sighting of the young girl getting into an orange 120Y Datsun station wagon was made at about 10am that morning, then a fencing contractor says they saw the car parked about 200 metres down Matea Road, which lies off the Napier-Taupo highway. The same contractor says he saw someone who looked like Mona in the car, and a middle-aged man in the driver’s seat. When he came back down the road, he said the car was empty. Mona was wearing light green slacks, a green rugby jersey with a white collar which was worn under a fawn jersey, a black duffle coat, brown shoes with yellow laces and she was carrying a hitchhiker’s brown pack and an old brown shoulder bag.
As her body has never been recovered, it is difficult for the police to ascertain when and where she went missing and whether she was murdered, however a statement on the police website says that they suspect she may have never left Taupo alive. Apart from the highly publicised orange datsun, Mona was also seen, by someone who knew her, joining another female hitchhiker and getting into a dark blue/green station wagon, which drove in the direction of the Napier-Taupo highway, at around 10:30 am on the same day. There were also three independent sightings of someone who looked like her at the Spa Hotel in Taupo between 12 and 1:30pm. One witness also saw her get into a red Toyota station wagon, outside the bottle shop at the hotel. At the time, there were not many leads as to what had happened to Mona, but it wouldn’t be until the crime was aired on Cold Case, a New Zealand television show, that different theories started to come in about how the young girl disappeared. One of the persistent rumours surrounding the case, is that Mona had connections with a gang, which may be how she met her demise. Sadly, since her disappearance, both of her parents have passed away and her other sister, Michelle told the Woman’s Day, in July this year, that her mother “couldn’t deal with the fact they could find other missing people but they could not find Mona. Now, as a mother myself, I can understand why.”
KIRSTY BENTLEY (1998)
If animals could talk, 19-year-old Kirsty Bentley’s murder investigation would probably have been solved a long time ago. Unfortunately, her Labrador-cross dog Abby, who she was walking at the time of her disappearance, couldn’t communicate what happened on New Years Eve 1998. Kirsty was reported missing, by her parents, after she failed to return home from a walk she had planned to take with the family dog on New Year’s Eve, prior to a planned dinner that was to take place with Kirsty’s family and her boyfriend at the time, Graeme Offord. Her mother remembers Kirsty asking her to help pin a butterfly-patterned, blue sarong around her, that morning, which she would wear under a black tank top and over Colorado shoes, in preparation for a big day which would include shopping with friends and that fateful walk, that she would never complete. That night, her parents would go out with the police to find their daughter, but it wouldn’t be until the next day, that the dog, Abby would be found tied to a tree, in the same spot that had been searched the night before, leading people to believe that someone had taken the dog and returned her over night. Later on in the search, Kirsty’s underpants and a pair of boxer shorts that she had worn over them, would be found 20 metres down from where the dog had been picked up. Her body would later be found, 18 days after she went missing, and the day before her birthday, in a paddock, two kilometres downstream of the Rakaia Gorge Bridge. The badly-decomposed body was found by two young men who had been looking for their cannabis crop. Since then, a number of people have been suspects in the case, including her father Sid who stated he didn’t remember what he was doing when she went missing, then retracted his original statements later on, and her brother John have both been treated as suspects, as well as a number of other people who were both known and unknown to Kirsty. Her father Sid has passed away since her disappearance.